Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright is a devout Christian, so much so that in addition to his own regular Twitter account, where the first thing in his bio is “Follower of Jesus,” he maintains another feed called “Walking With Waino,” which links to a newsletter where posts a daily analysis of Bible passages.
After Giants reliever Sam Coonrod cited his faith as a reason not to kneel alongside literally every other player on the field at Dodger Stadium for a pre-anthem Black Lives Matter moment of solidarity on Thursday, it was refreshing to see Wainwright use Christianity to explain why he did plan to kneel before St. Louis’ opener on Friday.
“I’ll tell you this — as a Christian man, my job, first and foremost, is to love my neighbor, and to love my teammates, and to love my friends and my family the best way I know how,” Wainwright said, as quoted by Jeff Jones in the Belleville News-Democrat.
As it turned out, there was some confusion about the kneeling before the Cardinals-Pirates game, with that part of the pregame program getting “skipped over/rushed past,” as Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. But Wainwright did still wear a Black Lives Matter shirt with his teammates during pregame workouts.
He did it because he was supporting his teammates in connection with his faith.
“The Lord’s blessed us with faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love and that means a lot to me,” Wainwright said, in quotes forwarded to Deadspin by Jones. “So when Dexter [Fowler] says, ‘This would mean a lot for me, for you to join us in this movement,’ it was actually my suggestion to the team that we need to stand up and support these guys. Because it’s not about us. This movement is not about me, the middle class white guy, whatever. It’s not about anybody but the people who are struggling with what they’re struggling with. I understand, and listen.”
That’s the important part that Coonrod missed. It’s not about him. And while he certainly has freedom of speech and the ability to decide how he wants to handle the situation, that does not mean he has freedom from criticism, nor does it mean that if his explanation is full of holes, it must be accepted as valid.
Aside from citing his faith, Coonrod said, “I just can’t get on board with a couple things I’ve read about Black Lives Matter, how they lean towards Marxism, and … they said some negative things about the nuclear family.”
Black Lives Matter’s official stance on the nuclear family: “We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.” If you’ve ever heard a baseball player talk about their team, they’ll often say things like, “We’re a family. We take care of each other in this clubhouse.” It’s the same idea. The word “disrupt” in the BLM language may read as aggressive, but what it’s clearly about is supporting families outside the traditional structure, and strengthening families within it by building a community. This should not be controversial.
As for the “Marxism,” yes, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter is a self-described Marxist. Without arguing about the merits of Marxism against capitalism — given where America stands in 2020, that would be a conversation worth having, but not right now — maybe there should be a little bit more thinking done about judging something on the basis of the full scope of its founders’ beliefs. Take, for instance, the United States of America, whose founders included slave owners like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Or, perhaps, the founders of Major League Baseball, an entity which did not allow a Black player to take the field until 1947. While there are cases to be made that the country and the league still are racist institutions, it also would be silly to say that they haven’t evolved from their founding.
Likewise, Black Lives Matter is now a movement that can be endorsed by local governments that paint the phrase on streets, or by Major League Baseball-sanctioned sleeve patches and moments of silent reflection where players kneel in solidarity. These are not militant, or even Marxist, behaviors. As Wainwright said, it’s about showing love and giving support to people who need it.
That’s what Cavan Biggio did when he went to Blue Jays teammate Anthony Alford and asked if it would be helpful to Alford, a Black player on the fringe of the Toronto roster, if Biggio joined him in kneeling.
Meanwhile, in Boston, while all of the Baltimore Orioles took a knee for the pre-anthem moment, several Red Sox players did not. This was despite Red Sox president Sam Kennedy, in talking about the “Black Lives Matter” sign adorning the outside of the left field wall at Fenway Park, facing the Massachusetts Turnpike, having said, “We see it as a human rights statement. And it’s important to our employees. It’s important to our players.”
Perhaps to some of the players, like outfielders Jackie Bradley Jr., and Alex Verdugo, who also took a knee during the national anthem on Friday. But not to a significant number who made their feelings known with their actions. This, for a team that just last month finally admitted that, yes, they’ve got some racist fans who come to their games.
That, above all else, is what it comes back to. Whether these decisions are ostensibly based in faith, like for Wainwright and Coonrod, or for any other reason. The ask was simple: take a knee for a moment before — not during, before — the national anthem, in an orchestrated moment to show care, to show that whatever thoughts anyone might have about Black Lives Matter, that yes, Black lives matter, and that they’re wearing sleeve patches and putting insignias on the mound for a reason.
For every last player, on a knee or not, their actions spoke louder than their words.